VMDO working against inflation as design for Buford expansion continues and estimates increase

Work continues on plans to renovate and expand Buford Middle School in Charlottesville to accommodate the city’s sixth graders as part of the first phase of a major reconfiguration. The School Board got an update on the project Thursday night. 

In April, Charlottesville City Council adopted a budget for FY23 that includes $2.5 million toward reconfiguration with $66.3 million in funds projected for FY24. That gave enough of a greenlight for the project to move forward. 

“After the City Council approved the project and moved forward, we worked out the next phase and started working about May 1,” said Wyck Knox, a project manager with VMDO.  (review the presentation)

An overview of a reconfigured Buford Middle School (Credit:VMDO)

The School Board hadn’t been presented with any updates since February, but learned that the project is still on track to be ready to make the reconfiguration is made in the 2026 academic year. Plans for Buford are at what engineers refer to as the 60-percent design. 

“Things will really pick up speed here and the goal is to get this out to bid February 1 because we all think it’s really important to have a price back from a contractor before the city finalizes their budget decisions next year,” Knox said. 

The last estimate was generated at the 30-percent design phase, and was $76.8 million and that included renovating the auditorium. 

“What got approved by the City Council was to proceed designing the whole project so we could bid it and see where we ended up and bid the auditorium building as well as certain site amenities as alternates so we would have some choices and flexibility on bid day,” Knox said. “At the time that was estimated to be $68.8 million.” 

Knox said the estimate for the smaller version number has now increased to $75.3 million and the total with the auditorium is at $82.2 million. 

“I don’t think I have to explain to anyone about the inflation that has occurred in the economy,” Knox said. 

Knox said bids for school construction projects across Virginia are all coming back in over estimate and he expects costs will continue to rise. 

Knox said inflation for school construction projects is increasing each year in double-digits and he provided some examples (Credit: City of Charlottesville) 

As such, Knox and his team have suggested further reductions to the design, including not building basketball courts, additional parking, and rebuilding a walking track at the field that will be removed when construction begins. The Schoolyard Garden will also not be rebuilt as part of this project. 

However, Knox said the city will continue to plan for a minimum of a 1,050 student capacity. 

“We feel like 1050 was a number that we already kind of came down a little bit on, three grades of 350,” Knox said. “We don’t want to reduce the size, the square footage of the project.” 

Knox said cuts made to get from 30 percent to 60 percent have already reduced the square footage per pupil to 141 square feet, lower than the state average of 151.  Knox also presented other architectural details, including a renovation that will keep each grade in its own space. 

If the project goes to contract and moves forward next spring, soon after that it will be time to decommission the existing gym at Buford so it can be demolished. 

“I think we’re all excited about tearing that thing down soon and then anything with the garden that needs to be relocated and moved including the soil, there’s some concern about that, and finding a spot either on site or off site or a combination of the two,” Knox said. 

The schedule included in the packet shows that a final cost estimate will be developed and presented sometime in mid-November as pre-bidding work continues. 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the September 2, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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